Just as with road frames, 'light' and 'stiff' are highly desirable traits in road cycling footwear and Bont's latest Vaypor model certainly ticks both boxes. At 544g for our size 44 test pair they're at the lighter end of the spectrum but as we've come to expect from Bont, the bathtub-style carbon fibre sole also lends incredible levels of rigidity.
Couple that with a fully heat mouldable fit, a wide range of sizes and last shapes, and you have a solid recipe for performance and long-term comfort, all at a fairly reasonable cost as compared to true customs or even some top-end Italian inline models.
It's all about the fit
Take a look at someone else's feet for a moment (preferably someone you know!) and make note of how similar they are to your own. A bit wider here and narrower there? Higher or lower arch? Maybe a bunion or bone spur? Truth of the matter is that for even many of the best conventional cycling shoes, their designers often necessarily shape them for what they interpret to be the central bell curve.
Bont actually offers four different bell curves for the Vaypor: narrow, standard, wide, and even Asian, with a wider footprint and lower overall volume. If none of those are close enough, there's a full custom option as well. Our samples fit well straight out of the box but unless you're perfectly average, we strongly recommend customising the shape as the unusually stiff, wraparound construction can otherwise be overly constraining - or even painful.
The moulding process is simple: just bake the shoes in an oven at 70°C (160°F) for 20 minutes, let them cool just a bit, then strap them on and wait for them to cool. If need be, you can also spot shape specific areas to get more room as needed (we used Bike Fit's handy shoe stretcher) and the shoes can be remoulded as many times as you want.
It's a good thing, too, since it admittedly took us a few tries before things were perfectly dialed – including some playing around with insoles – but once they were, it's hard to compare the feel to anything else. Though the entire lower section of the shoe seems unsettlingly unyielding at first, the end result is a rigid shell that feels like it was custom moulded to your own foot – because it was.
Out on the road, the total lack of pressure points and hot spots makes for hours of pain-free pedaling and the ultra-rigid carbon sole genuinely feels more efficient underfoot – that is, when you're noticing them at all. Some shoe manufacturers have stressed that too much rigidity can negatively impact comfort on long rides but we'd counter that argument here. When that super stiff sole is perfectly shaped to your foot and is as incredibly supportive as this one, it becomes a complete non-issue.
Moreover, overall footholding ability is outstanding owing largely to the well-shaped heel cup. Though the cut of the Vaypor is notably lower than most other shoes, the deep heel pocket and grippy suede-like liner work together for an ironclad lock that still won't shred the back of your socks. And despite the single main ratcheting closure, pressure is very evenly distributed across the top of the foot thanks to the densely padded tongue and broad, tapering main strap.
As for the funky-looking forefoot 'Z-strap', it honestly doesn't do much – though in all fairness, we experienced no difference in foot holding, good or bad, when it was either loose or tight.
Tech weenies concerned about stack should also note that the Bont sole is paper-thin. Claimed thickness is just 3.6mm and in this case it's actually believable – we had to drop our saddle heights on test bikes to get the same knee angle as with more conventional shoes.
Room for improvement
Build quality and overall aesthetics have improved over older Bont shoes we've sampled before. Gone are the visible glue lines, occasional gaps and uneven edges, and generally unfinished appearance of before, plus there's a new moulded toe cap guards against tire rub as well.
Make no mistake, though – no one is going to confuse the finish quality of the Bonts with someone like Sidi but at least now buyers likely won't feel bad about how much money they just spent after opening the box. One disappointing oversight is that the buckle partially obscures the 'Vaypor' logo on both shoes – d'oh!
Ventilation is notably better than the a-ones we tested earlier this year with bigger openings in the toe box plus a perforated tongue that's more exposed to oncoming air. Even so, the rest of the upper is almost wholly devoid of any holes (the heat moldable design apparently precludes the use of mesh) and despite appearances to the contrary, the little intake holes in the toe cap don't actually go anywhere.
It's the same story down below as the carbon bathtub includes no ports for air to come in but at least there is a pair of small holes underneath the toes for water to drain out.
On the plus side, the upper material breathes surprisingly well so while you still won't get much of a wind-in-your-toes feeling, at least your feet won't get uncomfortably clammy, either. Notably, our feet actually got cold on a 10°C (50°F) road ride so despite appearances, be sure to wear booties as you normally would when the temperature drops.
We'd also like to see some sort of slick, semi-rigid material applied to the upper where the main strap overlaps. As it is currently, it's difficult to avoid wrinkling the material during the moulding process since the overlapping bits tend to bind instead of gliding smoothly over each other.
Carbon fibre socks for your feet
Like all high-end shoes, the Bont Vaypors don't come cheap at US$369/£320 (or US$395/£340 in genuine leather instead of the standard shiny microfibre) but when compared to top-end footwear out of Italy or true one-off customs, the price becomes easier to stomach especially when you consider the performance and fit attributes.
That being said, their rigid feel won't suit everyone and more value-minded consumers that are interested in the Vaypor's features but don't want to spend that kind of money should instead take a look at Bont's a-three model. Those offer the same fully heat mouldable concept but with a cheaper and slightly thicker fibre composite bathtub and three Velcro straps instead of ratcheting buckle – all at under US$200.
Price: US$369/£320 (shiny microfibre); US$395/£340 (leather)
Available sizes: 36-40, 47-50 (full sizes only); 40-47 (whole and half sizes); plus narrow, standard, and wide widths throughout
Weight: 544g/pair (sz44, w/insoles)
Pros: Custom-moulded fit, ultra-rigid sole, superb heel hold, lightweight, reasonably priced for custom realm
Cons: Ventilation not on par with other top-end shoes, moulding process may take several trials
Cyclingnews verdict: 4 ½ stars
More information: http://www.bont.com/cycling